Google is casting its nets farther and wider to return search results — and consolidating those results more efficiently through entities. As I discuss in a new Search Engine Land column, an entity consists of a collection of information that Google reports about at topic in one convenient search result. Search for, say, “Starbucks near me,” and Google will pull information from the Starbucks corporate website, Google My Business pages, Yelp reviews, and many other sources to consolidate probable answers through an entity. Entities are becoming more important for a variety of reasons, among them the rise of voice search, which is making it possible for people to ask more complicated, detailed queries (e.g., “Where is there a Starbucks near a theater showing Logan?”) Google needs to draw from a deeper pool of information to return precise answers in a convenient knowledge graph. The rise of entities affects businesses in a number of ways, including the need to publish information across the digital world where Google retrieves information for entities. Check out my column to learn more, and contact us to discuss how we can improve your search marketing efforts.
On March 20, Foursquare officially unveiled Foursquare Analytics, which Foursquare describes as “Google Analytics, but for the real world.” Foursquare Analytics consists of a dashboard that businesses may use to better understand consumer behavior at brick-and-mortar locations. According to Mike Harkey, vice president of business development at Foursquare, the dashboard can help businesses ranging from retailers to restaurants improve their location marketing by getting insight such as why sales drop or increase in different locations and who their best customers are — all based on information that Foursquare collects from consumers’ smartphones as they check in and out of locations.
For example, Foursquare can tell TJ Maxx that 5 percent of the retailer’s shoppers visit TJ Maxx locations about every other week, and eight out of 10 shoppers visited TJ Maxx two times or more in the past 12 months. The high-frequency shoppers were responsible for 40 percent of TJ Maxx’s foot traffic in February, which represented a 30 percent increase over February 2016. Foursquare has been working with businesses such as Equinox, H&M, Taco Bell, and TGI Fridays to test the dashboard.
Our take: the rollout of Foursquare Analytics is not surprising. The only real surprise is that Foursquare didn’t launch the dashboard sooner. Foursquare has been actively mining its 93 million mapped locations to position itself as a location data powerhouse to businesses for the past few years. For example, in 2015, Foursquare launched Pinpoint, which uses consumers’ location data to help businesses create more targeted advertising to consumers. Among many other developments, Foursquare has also developed relationships with businesses such as OpenTable and Uber to make it easier for users of those apps to book rides and dinner reservations with businesses that are on Foursquare.
Foursquare is one of the “data amplifiers,” a term that SIM Partners coined to describe the data aggregators (such as Acxiom, Factual, Infogroup, and Neustar) and publishers (such as Apple, Bing, Foursquare, Google, and Yelp) that share a business’s location data across the digital world, where people conduct “near me” searches. As noted in a recent Search Engine Land column, data amplifiers are important to any business with a brick-and-mortar location because amplifiers wield a disproportionate amount of influence. When a data amplifier such as Foursquare possesses accurate location data for your business, you enjoy a ripple effect as Foursquare shares your data with more customers than a second-tier directory could ever reach.
Our advice to brands: invest your time and effort building relationships with data amplifiers instead of paying to have your location data directly managed on tier-two directories. Foursquare is one of those amplifiers. Clearly, its future is not about check-ins but about data. SIM Partners maintains relationships with all data amplifiers. We are in a position to help you publish data more efficiently on these platforms. Contact us to get started.
When consumers visit a company’s business locator, chances are they are already interesting in becoming customers. And yet too many brands fail to convert that interest into revenue. The sins of bad locators are many: they’re often loaded with extraneous details that distract users, they don’t include enough useful information about hours and directions, and they fail to optimize content for mobile. By treating business locators as revenue generators, brands can make them more user friendly experiences that encourage a path to purchase. My new column for Search Engine Land, “10 Ways to Improve Your Business Locators,” provides practical tips for wringing more value out of locators. Check it out and contact us to discuss how we can help you.
On February 28, the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud-computing platform experienced a service interruption for four hours — an event that disrupted the performance of some well known businesses such as Buzzfeed, Netflix, Pinterest, Quora, Slack, and Spotify. AWS over the past 10 years has become a vital part of the Web. More than 148,000 websites as well as thousands of apps and devices rely on AWS to help them manage their infrastructure by storing critical assets on the AWS cloud. When AWS went down, its clients experienced problems ranging from slow processing time to outages. Because AWS’s clients include so many high-profile brands with substantial web traffic, a bad day for AWS meant it was lights-out time for everyone Slacking, taking Buzzfeed quizzes, listening to music on Spotify, and binge watching on Netflix.
Businesses scrambled to notify their users about what had happened and to keep them up to date as best they could. In reality, AWS clients — including Amazon itself — were powerless to do anything until AWS recovered.
SIM Partners also relies on AWS to support our client service through our Velocity and Velocity Health platforms. Like many businesses, we find it more cost-effective and practical to rely on the cloud to store the myriad assets that Velocity and Velocity Health use in order to manage the complexities of location marketing for businesses that operate hundreds and thousands of brick-and-mortar locations. But when AWS went down, fortunately we were not one of the AWS clients that experienced a service lapse. In fact, for SIM Partners, February 28 was a routine day free of interruptions.
But why? Because we planned for the unexpected. We’ve built security safeguards into Velocity and Velocity Health and have developed a level of service redundancy to ensure that the needs of our clients are not compromised. And we have to. For our healthcare clients, patient access to healthcare systems is at stake. And our clients in other industries count on us to support countless dollars in revenue generation by managing their digital brands across multiple platforms and channels. So we have to plan for the worst. Consequently, we experienced zero interruptions on the day of the great outage.
If you work with a software-as-a-service (SaaS) provider, now is a good time to check their protocols and approach for protecting the integrity of their service. If you are considering a partnership with a SaaS vendor, make sure they walk you through their process for anticipating and managing disruptive events.
Your brand depends on how well we manage the unexpected.
Google has made Google Maps more personal and social.
In a recently published blog post, Google announced that users can save locations to personalized lists and share those lists with others through social networks, email, and messaging apps. For example, someone planning a trip to the SxSW festival in Austin might want to create an “Austin Night Life” and “Austin BBQ Joints” list and store Google Maps destinations ahead of their visit for easy access when exploring the city during the event. The lists could be stored offline if needed and shared with other friends attending SxSW to do some planning together.
Our take: this development underscores why it’s so important for businesses with brick-and-mortar locations to manage their location data and content effectively. Businesses that maintain accurate location data and compelling content will enjoy a multiplier effect when someone shares the business’s information with other users through social and messaging apps. But businesses that do a poor job managing their online identity will pay for their lack of attention many times over.
- Make sure you claim and optimize your Google listing via Google My Business.
- Ensure your location data is correct.
- Include quality photos that encourage people to visit your location. (Per Google, “Businesses with recent photos typically receive more clicks to their websites.”)
It’s also interesting to speculate what this development means to the future of Google Maps. I would not be surprised if Google eventually incorporates into its ranking algorithms information about businesses stored in personal lists as well as titles of personal lists, thus putting more power into the hands of users. It’s also not unreasonable for Google to use personal lists to suggest things to do and places to go, akin to a vacation suggestion via algorithm. Or, Google could repurpose list data for its Google destinations product. After all, we know two things with certainty about Google:
- Google wants to create an end-to-end experience that keeps users on Google.
- User data is king. Google is always looking for ways to put user data to work. And personal lists are a treasure trove of user preferences based on data.
Whatever happens down the road, brands can prepare themselves by getting the basics of local data and content management right. Contact us to discuss how we can help you.
In 2017, data amplifiers are exerting more influence over location marketing as local search and omnichannel discovery converge.
Data amplifiers consist of data aggregators (such as Neustar) and publishers (such as Google) that share a business’s location data across the digital world, where people conduct “near me” searches. It’s imperative that businesses with multiple locations share their location data with these amplifiers instead of taking the scattershot approach of directly managing their location data across tier-two directories. Due to their scale and reach, data amplifiers deliver more payback for a brand’s location marketing investment.
And data amplifiers are becoming even more important as consumers adopt more devices and channels to discover brands. As Google notes, about 60 percent of online consumers start shopping on one device but continue doing so on another. No business can possibly hope to keep up with omnichannel consumers — but the good news is that they don’t have because data amplifiers efficiently distribute brands’ location information no matter where consumers are searching for them.
My latest Search Engine Land column discusses in more detail who the data amplifiers are and why they are increasingly important in an omnichannel world. Check out my column, and contact us to discuss how we can help you succeed with location marketing.
The rise of the omnichannel consumer has challenged businesses with brick-and-mortar locations to provide a consistent experience across channels and devices. Consumers expect brands to be present with relevant content whether consumers are interacting with them on Snapchat, Facebook, or through a Google search — and that experience needs to be seamless from search to the in-store experience. In my recently published Search Engine Land column, “How Brands Can Win with Omnichannel Discovery,” I discuss how businesses can successfully engage with omnichannel consumers by combining location data with compelling content across channels and devices. Check it out, and contact us to discuss how SIM Partners can help you improve your location marketing with omnichannel consumers.
How was your Black Friday? I’ll bet your online sales were a bright spot, but your brick-and-mortar sales were a disappointment. Sources ranging from Business Insider to Mashable reported that retailers generated so much online revenue on Black Friday that the lines between Black Friday and Cyber Monday are rapidly blurring, and mobile purchases continue to climb. But in-store sales fell, as reported by Reuters. It’s understandable that retailers might want to double down on their online efforts, but the offline experience remains a huge part of Black Friday, and retailers can do quite a bit to make their brick-and-mortar experience relevant to Black Friday shoppers.
For instance, retailers have many opportunities to provide a better in-store experience that shoppers cannot get online so easily (or not at all), such as personal concierges and amenities such as complimentary food and drinks. And they need to promote those services by updating their content wherever shoppers conduct near-me searches for Black Friday deals.
But more importantly, retailers need to do a better job catering to the omnichannel shopper by making it easier for shoppers to browse online and shop in-store. Here’s what Business Insider has to say about the matter:
Legacies are increasingly at risk of losing out on holiday sales as the retail market moves online. Traditional retailers, like Macy’s, Walmart, etc., still rely on their physical store locations for much of their revenue, but store performance is struggling as consumers shift online. Looking ahead to next year, omnichannel fulfillment options like click and collect or ship-from-store can help these retailers maximize the use of their brick-and-mortar locations over the holidays, as consumers increasingly rely on digital devices to shop. Moreover, leveraging the physical store for flexible fulfillment options like click and collect can be a boon for these retailers over the holidays when potential weather disruptions could impact home delivery.
The only point I disagree with is the part about “Looking ahead to next year.” Retailers should be acting like omnichannel merchants this year. They should have been doing so last year. On our own blog, I commented recently on some of the ways retailers can better service the needs of omnichannel shoppers this holiday season and all-year round, in fact. At SIM Partners, we help businesses anticipate and respond to changes in location marketing brought about by shifts in consumer behavior such as the rise of the omnichannel shopper. Contact us to discuss how we can help you.
Black Friday once was an occasion for shoppers to line up in the dead of night to find bargains at big-box retailers. This ritual still happens, but with an important twist. Now shoppers are complementing their Black Friday offline experience by browsing and buying across a multitude of channels and devices, including desktops, mobile phones, tablets, and smart speakers.
Welcome to the omnichannel holiday shopping season.
According to a survey conducted by technology provider Signal, brick-and-mortar retailers can succeed this season by addressing the needs of omnichannel shoppers, with mobile being at the center of the experience. Retailers such as Kohl’s and Target are already responding to the omnichannel shopper by stepping up services such as click-and-collect purchasing that cater to omnichannel shoppers. Retailers can succeed with holiday shoppers by creating a seamless journey across channels.
According to Signal, the primary way holiday shoppers browse for gifts is on a desktop/laptop, but the most frequent way consumers purchase gifts is in-stores. Approximately 20 percent of consumers primarily browse via mobile devices (smartphones and tablets); 8 percent use smartphones; and 7 percent use tablets as their primary way to make holiday purchases.
A Signal press release states, “Consumers don’t think in channels, and neither should retailers. The survey findings show that people consistently shop across desktop, mobile, and in stores as it suits their needs. Consumers don’t want to make a choice between the convenience of buying from home and the assurance of handling the product in a store: they want both. By offering options like buy online/pickup in store, free shipping and easy returns, retailers can effectively serve consumers wherever they are shopping.”
Create Next Moments
The key to winning with the omnichannel holiday shopper is to create “next moments” of engagement across multiple channels and devices, which ultimately leading to a purchase in-store. A next moment is the action that a consumer takes after finding your brand through a search.
Next moments should capitalize on the unique attributes of each channel and device. For instance, in 2015, Target launched an omnichannel holiday campaign across platforms such as Facebook and Snapchat. The campaign capitalized on the unique attributes of each platform: playful geo-filters on Snapchat and e-commerce ads on Facebook. Because Facebook and Snapchat cater to different audiences in unique ways, a one-size-fits-all approach would not have worked. Instead, Target focused on creating brand awareness on Snapchat and product awareness on Facebook.
But Target went well beyond Facebook and Snapchat. The company also relied on TV (creating content with Disney to promote an airing of Mary Poppins) and in-store (e.g., its flagship stores were reimagined as physical Wonderlands).
Preparing for the omnichannel shopper also means ensuring that your brand is findable through the different ways people research and shop across channels. As we noted on a recent blog post, shoppers who browse for products on mobile devices are increasingly relying on voice-activated searches to find what they need, especially while they are on the go. Merchants should optimize the content on their location pages with more complicated, descriptive searches in mind. (e.g., “Where can I find Sky Viper Streaming Drones and get free gift-wrapping, too?”)
Click and Collect
In 2016, Target is among the retailers beefing up their ability to cater to shoppers who want to buy a product online and collect it in stores. The company is adding more counters to fulfill click-and-collect orders and intends to open “flex-format” stores that act as collection points for click-and-collect orders.
The focus on click-and-collect makes sense. According to the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), 85 percent of holiday shoppers are researching online before making holiday purchases in store, and 39 percent are taking advantage of click-and-collect services (an increase from 32 percent who did so in 2015). In addition, 83 percent of shoppers picking up online purchases in stores said they would make additional purchases at the location when picking up their digital order.
In some ways, holiday shopping has not changed. Many consumers still devote considerable time and energy shopping on Black Friday as they always have. Traditions such as visiting Santa Claus at department stores are alive and well. But consumer behaviors have become more complicated. As we’ve noted on our blog, we’re turning holiday shopping into an on-demand experience. And because of our access to multiple devices and channels, we’re making holiday shopping an omnichannel one as well. Businesses that understand how to respect the traditions of the past while adapting to changing consumer behavior will win.
For more insight into the omnichannel consumer, check out our recently published The CMO’s Guide to Omnichannel Discovery. Contact us to discuss how we can help you improve your location marketing experience in the era of the omnichannel shopper.
This is the season of holiday shopping on demand. And both online and offline retailers are more prepared than ever, thanks to the impact of catalysts such as Amazon, Google, and Uber. How prepared are you?
The Digital Giants Speak
In recent months, we’ve seen online platforms ranging from Instagram to Pinterest launch functions such as buy buttons that make it easier to buy products during micro-moments of discovery, when consumers use their mobile phones to decide what to buy and where. Most recently, Facebook introduced new call-to-action buttons, including order food, request an appointment, and get a quote — allowing users to take action faster after they’ve found where they want to go or do.
Pinterest indicates that since the app launched a product discovery and shopping functionality, 55 percent of Pinterest users have used Pinterest for this purpose. Finding and shopping for products is the second most popular activity on Pinterest. Meanwhile, Amazon continues to modify its Echo device that shoppers can use to buy products and have them delivered to their homes via voice commands. The Echo Dot, which was released October 20 (just in time for holiday shopping), is a more affordable version of Echo that uses intelligent assistant Alexa to help consumers do everything from control their home devices to use on-demand services. Not to be outdone, on November 4, Google released its highly anticipated Echo competitor, Google Home, which offers the ability to have a more contextual, intelligent conversation (e.g., “Where’s the closest place I can see Rogue One and buy Star Wars LEGO watches, too?”).
And those examples constitute the tip of the iceberg.
Brick-and-Mortar Businesses Have Their Say
Smart brick-and-mortar merchants and their partners are taking matters into their own hands by launching their own on-demand services. To wit:
- Cole Haan and Nordstrom are among the name-brand businesses partnering with UberRUSH to offer same-day delivery of products directly to consumers’ doorsteps.
- Earlier in 2016, Walmart announced the launch of an in-house on-demand service that relies on ride-sharing companies such as Lyft and Uber to make it possible for customers to place orders online, designate a delivery window, and have their orders fulfilled and delivered.
- In August, SIM Partners rolled out an API that our clients can use to add a “Ride There with Uber” button to their location pages. The Ride There with Uber button makes it easier for shoppers to get to an offline destination, which is especially useful if they find something on a location page that they want to buy, prefer to go to the store for pick-up and perhaps additional browsing, and need a ride ASAP.
As we have noted on our blog, brick-and-mortar retailers need to act now in order to make sure that shoppers are aware of any on-demand services they offer. For instance, retailers should optimize the content on their location pages to promote their services, whether they consist of gift wrapping, delivery, or in-store pick-up for online orders. When consumers use their mobile phones, Echo, or Google Home devices to do a nearby search for Zootopia stuffies, retailers’ location pages should tell them not only that they have them in stock but whether they can wrap and deliver the toys. Retailers should also complement their organic content by investing in paid advertising, such as paid search, to promote their services.
If you lack on-demand services for your offline locations, consider acting with a partner such as SIM Partners that can help you scale quickly with functionality such as a Ride There with Uber button. If you already offer such services, make sure shoppers know about them as the holiday season approaches. Contact us — we’d love to discuss how we can help you.